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The morning after a night of (offscreen) lovemaking, a muscled teenager looks at the guy sleeping next to him. The sleepyhead is also the biggest bully of all at the halfway house for adolescents where the teen arrived not that long ago. And look at them now. This lovely and very understated moment, seemingly captured on the fly, is the heartbreaking center of Consequences (Posledice), the feature debut from Slovenian director Darko Stante. Heartbreaking, because not that much later, the two decide to go to and have breakfast consisting of coffee and … kebab (they still have tough-guy personas to uphold in public, so no mimosas or mannerisms). But then the bully-turned-lover suddenly decides to skip the kebab so he can go and see his girlfriend. The look on the face of the protagonist, an enfant terrible with a lot of pent-up anger and hurt inside of him, is one of devastated horror, as if the short moment of happiness he experienced expired before he could even think about how to possibly extend it into the future.
The sequence, roughly in the middle of the film, manages at once to be an intimate slice of life and an admirably compressed suggestion of the main character’s emotional complexity and predicament. But the lead-up to this moment is rather long and not all that eventful, while the entire third act is not only clichéd but also so amply foreshadowed that the whole thing feels like a foregone conclusion before it has even started. That said, the performances and Stante’s rough-edged, documentary-like take on the material are both fascinating to watch and the drama could fit into the lineups of showcases of young filmmakers and LGBTQ festivals and distributors.
The only thing about the muscular 18-year-old Andrej (Matej Zemljic) that always seems to be impeccably in order is his hair. His life is a shambles and at the start of Consequences, he’s sent to a “youth detention center” on the outskirts of Ljubljana by a judge. Clearly at the end of her tether, Andrej’s mother (Rosana Hribar) seems glad if not necessarily happy that her juvenile-delinquent son will be out of her hands during the week. But like the other problem kids at the halfway house, if he’s on his best behavior, he’ll be allowed to go home on weekends.
That doesn’t happen too often, it turns out, as Andrej tries to find his bearings at the center. His introvert of a roommate, Luka (Lovro Zafred), seems pretty chill at first, but Andrej is immediately taken aback by the aggressive alpha behavior of Zeljko (Timon Sturbej). Nicknamed Zele, the kid is a bit smaller but a lot more intimidating than Andrej. He thinks nothing of jumping the line at lunch and helping himself to other kids’ trays or cigarettes. Even worse, he uses the few people in his good graces as lackeys for his dirty work, as the boy needs money for booze and drugs but he can’t get his hands dirty since he’s being watched.
Stante, who write the script as well, has the difficult task here of suggesting the many differences between Zele and Andrej, who are both in the center because of the same troubled background and their complete dismissal of adult authority figures. He largely succeeds because Zemljic is very good at suggesting Andrej’s more decent and hesitant side without making these feel out of character. Out of his element when he arrives and craving a smoke, Andrej shows a modicum of decency toward his peers who might have a cigarette for him, something Zele, who always acts like he’s owed everything, would never do.
Generally, the feature suffers from narrative balance and rhythm issues that are quite common when directors jump from shorts to the feature-length format. In the first scene, for example, Andrej flies into a fit of rage when he can’t get it up when making out with a girl — a rather clichéd foreshadowing of his sexual orientation — but Stante then drags out the “revelation” of his homosexuality for almost half of the running time. Perhaps that Slovenian audiences might need to warm to the idea that a brawny and combative teen protagonist could be gay but abroad, where the pic will almost exclusively be marketed to the LGBTQ niche, this doesn’t feel so much like a revelation as a confirmation that was a long time coming. It is only after that point that the plot can finally switch gears.
The star of the film is without a doubt Zemljic, who showed promise in Sonja Prosenc’s Karlovy Vary competition title History of Love and who here takes his first major lead role and runs with it. Even though not a lot of backstory is known about his character and he is not necessarily much of a talker, Andrej’s thinking is always fully transparent. And this emotional lucidity makes his many disappointments and heartbreak all the more relatable. Opposite him, Sturbej excels at suggesting Zele’s insidious nature masked by an explosive exterior, but Stante as a screenwriter doesn’t give the baddie and his modus operandi all that many gray areas. This makes the entire third act feel like an afterthought since a showdown between Andrej and Zele is clearly what the story is headed for all along. Plus there is one major unsolved riddle in the form of Zele’s own proclivities, which could have provided his villain character with more emotional complexity but which is ignored here in favor of staying closer to Andrej’s perspective.
Stante has said that the narrative was inspired by his own work in youth detention centers but interestingly, he depicts the people running the place where Zele and Andrej are sent as spineless, cowering adults who mostly let the kids do whatever they want. That said, his experience is felt in the very realistic way in which he portrays the environment and the fraught relationships between the wayward adolescents. In the end, Andrej and his peers are all looking for a way to navigate this dog-eat-dog world. If someone snuffs out a weakness, that could be the end of you. Consequences asks how, in world where this seems to be the only rule, there can be any room for love.
Production companies: Temporama, Zwinger Film, Nu Frame
Cast: Matej Zemljic, Timon Sturbej, Gasper Markun, Lovro Zafred, Rosana Hribar, Dejan Spasic, Blaz Setnikar, Iztok Drabik Jug, Lea Cok
Writer-director: Darko Stante
Producers: Jerca Jeric, Andraz Jeric,
Director of photography: Rok K. Nagode
Production designer: Spela Kropusek
Costume designer: Ina Ferlan
Editor: Sara Gjergek
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Discovery)
Sales: Wide Management
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